The CLA Game Fair: The Ultimate Celebration of British Food
This July, around 143,500 visitors arrived at Blenheim Palace to enjoy the CLA Game Fair – the UK’s largest celebration of the British countryside. Now in its 56th year, the annual three day event offers visitors the chance to take part in activities including clay pigeon shooting, fishing, 4x4 driving, and archery, and showcases an unbeatable array of traditional food and drink from some of the UK’s best artisan producers and traders. From Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese, whose produce is made on her own family-run farm using her very own cows, to the Ham & Cheese Company, who have spent the last 13 years searching the length and breadth of Italy for the very best suppliers of meat and mozzarella, the CLA Game Fair’s traders really care about what they do, and it shows in the excellent quality of their produce.
What this event does so well is showcase how delicious traditional food can be when perfected by small businesses. Each exhibitor has something different to offer and knows their trade inside out. When asked, the stallholders for The Potted Game Company were able to tell me exactly where in the country their venison, quail and rabbit is sourced, and I was impressed to learn that it’s all English, all local and all sustainable.
Family businesses these might be, but part-time hobbies they certainly are not. Many exhibitors have received prestigious awards, and much of their produce has made it onto the shelves of various UK supermarkets. One of these successful traders is Sipsmith Brewery, whose delicious sloe gin and Summer Cup is now sold in Waitrose. Despite the commercial success some companies have seen, the focus always remains on quality over quantity. Eliott from the Ham & Cheese Company, for example, told me that he had stopped selling one of his products to a certain restaurant as a result of them not looking after it correctly.
Joining this year’s fair for the first time was Yum Yum Tree Fudge, Purely Pickled Eggs, and The Strawberry Shop, to name just a few. JLS-member JB, who has recently entered into Venison farming, was also a first-time visitor to the fair this year. With his wife and dog Nala in toe, JB told me, “The Game Fair is a brilliant day out… there’s so much to learn, there’s so much to do.” For JB, the exhibitor who stood out the most was Rosie Barham, who has written a book called Delicious Vermin, in an attempt to convince readers of the benefits of eating squirrels, pigeons and the like.
As well as the numerous delicious tasters on offer at the CLA Game Fair, there are also various shopping boutiques to browse, gundog shows to watch, and delicious homemade beverages to purchase and take home. Next year’s event at Ragley Hall is set to be just as fantastic, with plenty of new exhibitors organised to attend.
by Rhiannon Davies